Monday, March 23, 2015

A Modern Approach to Traditional Fabrics

I have been a fan of Brunschwig & Fils fabrics for as long as I can remember. It is their snappy prints to which I really gravitate, because they seem the natural companion to my preferred style of decor: classic; polished; well-mannered yet not at all boring.  They also remind me of the good ol' days of American decorating.  But I think that one of the biggest assets of Brunschwig & Fils' prints is that they are versatile- perhaps more versatile than some people realize.  To see this versatility in action, look no further than the Palm Springs home of designer Michael S. Smith and James Costos, the U.S. Ambassador to Spain.

Recently published in the April issue of Architectural Digest, the house, which was built in the early 1970s, was designed by architect Howard Lapham.  What I find remarkable about the house- in addition to its spectacular setting, of course- is its unusual architectural style, one with which I was completely unfamiliar.  The house was designed in the Mayan Revival style, hence those striking carved motifs that appear both on the home's exterior and in its interior.

When it came to decorating the house, Smith went for a blend of sophisticated 70s-era furniture and new pieces from his Jasper line, while the predominate color palette, which evolved from the hues found in the home's travertine floors, is a pleasing mix of neutrals and green.  What really caught my eye, though, were the Brunschwig & Fils fabrics that Smith used throughout the house.  Smith is the Consulting Creative Director of Brunschwig & Fils, so his use of their fabrics might be expected.  But perhaps what isn't so expected is how some of Brunschwig's more traditional prints can look so at ease in a quintessential 1970s Palm Spring house.  This is the versatility to which I referred earlier.  Who knew that the much-loved fern print, Les Fougères, could look so at home in a Mayan Revival house?  Michael Smith, that's who.

Les Fougères

I believe that most of us are familiar with Les Fougères, that classic fern-leaf print which is so closely associated with Elsie de Wolfe.  For me, Les Fougères has traditionally conjured up thoughts of garden furniture, sunrooms, and wicker.  (In fact, in the illustration that accompanied my book's entry on "Faux Bois", it was Les Fougères that covered a rustic faux-bois bench.)  But when covering the walls of Smith's guest bedroom (see above), the fabric has a more modern feel to it.  The print seems earthier than when I've seen it in the past, something which I attribute to the room's desert color palette and sophisticated mix of furniture.

Les Touches

New Athos

Another print which needs no introduction is Les Touches, Brunschwig & Fils' classic snow-leopard print cotton fabric, which was introduced in 1965. Michael Smith joins the ranks of Geoffrey Beene, Van Day Truex, and Billy Baldwin, all of whom employed this fabric to stylish effect. But the green colorway, which Smith chose for another guest bedroom, is a nice departure from the oft-used black and cream colorway.  It was also the most logical choice for a home in the desert.  In the AD article, Smith mentions that he "wanted to do whole rooms in prints.  It's the 18th century fast-forwarded to the 1970s."  And using a single print throughout a room is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to use Les Touches.  It's also easier to do now that Brunschwig offers Les Touches in a coordinating wallpaper.

The printed fabric that is seen below the photo of Les Touches is New Athos in spring/aqua, which Smith selected to cover the bedroom's sofa.  Like Les Touches and Les Fougères, New Athos has a long and interesting history.  The print, which was inspired by an 18th-century hand-painted Chinese silk fabric, was introduced by Brunschwig & Fils before World War II, making it one of the longest-produced prints in Brunschwig's history.  The print was updated in 1980.

New Watson

And finally, we have New Watson, a woven fabric that was first introduced by Brunschwig & Fils in the 1980s.  It has since been updated in new colors and with a weightier feel to it.  Smith chose New Watson in the pewter colorway for banquette in the home's living room.

Interior photos from Architectural Digest, April 2015, Roger Davies photographer.  Fabric swatch photos courtesy of Brunschwig & Fils.


  1. So many elements of Billy Haines, especially the bedrooms upholstered in print, a riff of the 18thC...that living room mantle is almost verbatim Haines 1939 Golden Gate Expo room, just lacks a Turquoise inlaid tiled band and the O'Keeffe painting ...and lastly Dorothy Liebbes and Maria Kipp both of whom were featured by Haines for their hand loomed textiles at the 1939 exhibition and who worked with Haines throat his career, is seen in the last sample you posted used on the banquette in the living room. Kudos too the Brancusi style homage totem...not too mention the use of Mica, a fave of Jean Michel Frank and Roman Thomas as seen in the Oval Office for the coffee table he Roman Thomas!

    1. The Swan, I think this is a home whose interiors will be admired for decades to come. So timeless.

  2. I was lucky enough to have spent New Years Eve at this house (Michael and James are warm and wonderful hosts), and it is spectacular in person. The private rooms, which are swathed in gorgeous prints, are a somewhat stark but totally elegant contrast to the beigy taupy textural public spaces. It all works beautifully. And so desert appropriate!

    1. Foodie, Lucky you! I agree with you that it all works beautifully. It's nice to see a desert home that, while desert appropriate, isn't the same old-same old. It's fresh and inviting.

  3. A stunning home in an astounding setting. Love these timeless fabrics from Brunschwig & Fils!

    The Arts by Karena
    A New Gallery in Town!

    1. Me too. Brunschwig is a favorite of mine.

  4. Anonymous12:33 PM

    I'm not a big fan of Mr. Smith's, but this is pretty impressive. Those greens must be so refreshing in the desert. The whole thing has a Billy Baldwin feel: crisp colors, clean lines, mixture of contemporary and a few carefully chosen old pieces.

    1. Anon, There is definitely a Billy B. feel to the interiors. In the article, Smith mentions that he was inspired by the work that Baldwin did for Mary Wells Lawrence.

  5. The world of art in decors n’ fabrics of Brunschwig & Fils is stunning and it makes me feel enamored of these styles! Great to stumble upon here!

    Nancy Ballard